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McCollum's Column: Why no one will likely win a billion bucks

Posted: March 19, 2014 - 7:19pm

What’s pretty much 100 percent when you sign up for the game in which Warren Buffett will pay you (well, you and the government) a billion dollars for a perfect NCAA bracket.

You have to register to play. The bracket is sponsored by Quicken Loans, which reportedly paid Buffett’s insurance company in the ballpark of $10 million or so for the insurance policy in case lightning strikes 1,000 times in the same place.

One of the questions on the signup sheet is whether you are planning to sell your house. I was looking for the line in which I could say, yes, if I win the billion but then I wouldn’t need a loan. There are couple of other mortgage questions

It’s too tempting not to enter even though your email address may be full of offers from those affiliated with Quicken. In any case, Quicken is expected to get about 15 million new addresses and cell numbers in its database — all for a chance at the longest of longshots.

According to some statisticians, there is a 99.9 percent chance that every person who fills out a bracket will miss at least one game.

Ezra Miller, a Duke University mathematics professor, says the odds of an average person having a perfect bracket is 148 pentillion to 1.

It would take a mathematics professor from Duke to explain what a pentillion is. It’s 148 billion billion — write 148, add 18 zeroes and don’t worry about how long a vehicle carrying a pentillion dollars would take to travel from New York to Chicago if a person tossed $100 out the window every 10 miles.

Miller estimates the chances of winning are roughly the same odds of picking an atom out of a snowstorm.

Now, if the bracket-filler has some basketball knowledge, figuring some games are 50-50 odds, some 60-40, some 70-30 and some almost 100 percent, the odds get better — a billion to 1.

Too much math?

Get with a system.

Some people go by tradition, some by such weird stuff as which mascot would beat up the other in a fight.

Some do it because they just like speculating that a team with a cool nickname such as the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers will go far.

It’s no challenge to pick all No. 1 seeds. For one, No. 1 seeds are based on the judgment of a subjective group of human beings trying to make the illogical logical by various criteria and computer data.

Here’s the problem that’s often made a mess of my brackets from round one.

The NCAA tournament is a separate entity. It’s defined by random matchups.

Some lower seeds match up better with some higher seeds.

We are too influenced by what’s recently in focus. Just because a team was so impressive at the end of the season or in a conference tournament doesn’t mean it will play just as well starting over in a new tournament.

Some teams have peaked. Others are peaking.

One big intangible is durability, both physically and mentally. Winning the tournament requires winning at least six games over three straight weekends against various matchup situations on a neutral court over three straight weeks (two games sandwiching a day of rest on each weekend).

To me, it usually comes down to point guards, power forwards and a tough defensive mentality.

Some key questions:

Is Kentucky, certainly with the talent to make a run, this year’s mystery team?

Is Florida, just about everybody’s top favorite, about to ruin about everybody’s bracket by the Sweet Sixteen?

Do you really want to be undefeated going into the tournament like Wichita State, which has been placed in NCAA tourney all-stars bracket?

Can Stephen F. Austin, which last lost on Nov. 23, play with the big boys and become this year’s Cinderella team?

Can Syracuse find itself?

Which team from the Big 12, the toughest conference in the country, will emerge? All seven teams from the Big 12 have different skills and assets, which can create giant matchup problems for certain teams.

For the Final Four, I’ll go Louisville from the Midwest because of its toughness but watch out for Kentucky, whose team may be finally gelling and whose players certainly are used to winning. From the West, I’ll go with Wisconsin, which can shoot this year as well as play defense. From the East, I like Iowa State for its versatility and playmakers. From the South, I’ll got with a revived Syracuse because the Orange have talent, a defense that is tough to prepare for on short notice and by the simple fact that I think Florida, certainly deserving of a No. 1 seed, is being set up as a bracket-torcher.

The most dangerous lower seeds that could cause one to rip apart a bracket are Oklahoma State, North Carolina, Baylor and New Mexico and Michigan State, which in recent years has always seemed to be around in the Elite Eight.

I don’t expect to win a billion. I don’t expect anyone to.

But by this weekend, my junk mail folder will likely be full.

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or david.mccollum@thecabin.net or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)

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